What unites a retired Afghanistan veteran in the early stages of arthritis, a cop and a housewife from Wisconsin? That’s right, they all have become a victim of a commercial data-broker. Those organisations, collect, buy or sell sensitive personal information about your personality, what is your way of living and what is your digital footprint.
Let us describe the business model of a data broker in detail. For example, a police officer searches for his name on Google and finds out that information about his kids and wife is available online freely, making them extremely vulnerable to all kinds of criminals. Our housewife was once a victim of violence from her husband and becomes extremely careful about people online having her home address somewhere. Military man lost all of his savings and pension because data brokers shared his financial details with cyberstalkers who avalanched him with shady offers.
The whole population of the United States, that’s over 320 million people are all in great danger because of the data brokers activities. As many types of research show, that a minority of data-brokers allow you to opt-out from their databases freely. However, those opt-outs are not 100% true, as brokers could still hide your data from the search but keep it in the database, make the process extremely painful or long. The next downside is you most likely have to do that manually and won’t be able to pass that task to third parties usually.
The current state of affairs solely exists because there are no laws regulating the right of a consumer to be opted-out from a data broker or the usage of the data illegally. Not many of us know that those organisations exist at all, not speaking of those who really know how they operate.
Whereas various financial and medical bureaus are being regulated by the privacy laws, data brokers mostly avoid that because of the way they operate falls outside governmental regulations. This leads to the situation when even educated people don’t have the right tools or leverage to fight with data brokers on their field. It’s not about the data they share online, but all about the final person who doesn’t have any rights.
Where Data Brokers get the Data?
As the whole data brokers industry has grown over time, the whole concept of what we can call a source for them is becoming more and more complex, since the information is being spread online nowadays. Sometimes users are being asked to share some data with websites, sometimes they silently track actions performed by you. Even though if you never really shared anything online, burned all your letters and had your SSN memorised chances that data brokers have something on you are quite high. Most of the US citizens are being a part of various lists and databases.
Here are the main sources data brokers use to get a whole picture of you:
• Data purchased from major shops, retailers and intermediaries that contains your transaction and financial history
• Non-credit-card related information, for example, online loans
• Data from online surveys or tests you passed
• Lists of your online lists or shopping carts
• Data from warranty cards filled when purchasing a new TV-set at Wallmart
• Your social media activity (likes, shares and comments)
• Information from governmental and regular public databases
• Online subscriptions
• NPO’s and NCO’s lists of donors etc.
How many allow you to opt-out from the database?
Reputable WPF(World Privacy Forum) has created a great list of over 300 data-brokers and consumer lists that get your data. Rough estimates show that the number of data-brokers operating on the market is close to 3500. So in this list, there’s only one-tenth of the whole quantity. In this list, you will find data-brokers that got the letters from the FTC Commission asking for an inquiry, marketing brokers lists and others. Approximately one third from over 300 had opt-out options available, for example, Nuwber that will remove you in minutes. Some of the brokers were not fair about their opt-option as they would only partially remove you from the backlog. Some of them cost a few thousand dollars to avoid, which makes it almost impossible for most of the people to wipe off their data. Some of them posted an announcement on their website that such an option might be available in the near future.
How to opt-out from data broker listings?
Unfortunately, at the moment the option to be completely removed from online databases maybe not available every time you want to. In case a data-broker is a certified DMA member then you will be able to remove your data at a request. If not, most likely your data will be available forever, since non-DMA members are not obliged to follow the rules. Most of the organisations, however, would allow you to opt-you by clicking a few links or making a phone call.